updated 6/30/2005 9:09:27 AM ET 2005-06-30T13:09:27

Guest: Jon Meacham, Reza Aslan, Tony Perkins, Bobby Patray, Jerry Sutton

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good evening, and welcome to MSNBC‘s live coverage of President Bush‘s address to on Iraq from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  We‘re here still at the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

And right after the speech, immediately after the speech, we‘re going to hold a town meeting here for people to give the first live national response from people in the country to what the president has to say tonight about the war in Iraq.

And as we await the president, we‘re joined right now by “Newsweek” magazine‘s managing editor, Jon Meacham, in New York.

Jon, the majority of the people in the latest polls say they think we made a mistake going to Iraq.  How does the president fix that tonight?

JON MEACHAM, MANAGING EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:  Right.  You know, in a dark moment in World War II, President Roosevelt said that tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.  And I think the president will be hitting the notes that we have sacrificed enormously.  We must continue to stay the course because, in part because of that sacrifice.

But centrally, he is going to try to link the war in Iraq to the war on terror. September 11 to the fate of Baghdad and Basra.  And that is the connection that has become tenuous in most people‘s minds, I think.  We now have 52 percent of the country believing that we are now less safe.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank, thank you, Jon.

Let‘s go right now to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as we await the president who‘s now coming out right now.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Thank you.  Please be seated. 

Good evening. 

I am pleased to visit Fort Bragg, home of the airborne and special operations forces.  It‘s an honor to speak before you tonight.

My greatest responsibility as president is to protect the American people.  And that‘s your calling as well. 

I thank you for your service, your courage and your sacrifice. 

I thank your families, who support you in your vital work. 

The soldiers and families of Fort Bragg have contributed mightily to our efforts to secure our country and promote peace.  America is grateful, and so is your commander in chief.

The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror.  The war reached our shores on September 11, 2001. 

The terrorists who attacked us and the terrorists we face murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent.  

Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own grim image of tyranny and oppression by toppling governments, by driving us out of the region and by exporting terror.

To achieve these aims, they have continued to kill:  in Madrid, Istanbul, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali and elsewhere. 

The terrorists believe that free societies are essentially corrupt and decadent and, with a few hard blows, they can force us to retreat.  They are mistaken. 

After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: 

This nation will not wait to be attacked again.  We will defend our freedom.  We will take the fight to the enemy.  

Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. 

Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania.

There is only one course of action against them:  to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. 

The commander in charge of coalition operations in Iraq, who is also senior commander at this base, General John Vines, put it well the other day.  He said, “We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us.” 

Our mission in Iraq is clear:  We‘re hunting down the terrorists.  We‘re helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror.  We‘re advancing freedom in the broader Middle East.  We are removing a source of violence and instability and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren. 

The work in Iraq is difficult and it is dangerous.  Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed.  Every picture is horrifying, and the suffering is real. 

Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question:  Is the sacrifice worth it? 

It is worth it.  And it is vital to the future security of our country.  And tonight I will explain the reasons why. 

Some of the violence you see in Iraq is being carried out by ruthless killers who are converging on Iraq to fight the advance of peace and freedom. 

Our military reports that we have killed or captured hundreds of foreign fighters in Iraq who have come from Saudi Arabia and Syria, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and others. 

They are making common cause with criminal elements, Iraqi insurgents and remnants of Saddam Hussein‘s regime who want to restore the old order. 

They fight because they know that the survival of their hateful ideology is at stake.  

They know that as freedom takes root in Iraq, it will inspire millions across the Middle East to claim their liberty as well. 

And when the Middle East grows in democracy and prosperity and hope, the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits and lose their hopes for turning that region into a base for attacks on America and our allies around the world. 

Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror.

Among the terrorists, there is no debate. 

Here are the words of Osama bin Laden:  “This third world war is raging” in Iraq.  “The whole world is watching this war.”  He says it will end in “victory and glory or misery and humiliation.”

The terrorists know that the outcome will leave them emboldened or defeated.  So they are waging a campaign of murder and destruction. And there is no limit to the innocent lives they are willing to take. 

We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who exploded car bombs along a busy shopping street in Baghdad, including one outside a mosque. 

We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who sent a suicide bomber to a teaching hospital in Mosul. 

We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who behead civilian hostages and broadcast their atrocities for the world to see.   

These are savage acts of violence, but they have not brought the terrorists any closer to achieving their strategic objectives. 

The terrorists, both foreign and Iraqi, failed to stop the transfer of sovereignty.  They failed to break our coalition and force a mass withdrawal by our allies.  

They failed to incite an Iraqi civil war.  They failed to prevent free elections.  They failed to stop the formation of a democratic Iraqi government that represents all of Iraq‘s diverse population.  And they failed to stop Iraqis from signing up in large number with the police forces and the army to defend their new democracy.  

The lesson of this experience is clear:  The terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom. 

The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September the 11th, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like bin Laden. 

For the sake of our nation‘s security, this will not happen on my watch. 

A little over a year ago, I spoke to the nation and described our coalition‘s goal in Iraq.  I said that America‘s mission in Iraq is to defeat an enemy and give strength to a friend—a free, representative government that is an ally in the war on terror and a beacon of hope in a part of the world that is desperate for reform.  

I outlined the steps we would take to achieve this goal.

We would hand authority over to a sovereign Iraqi government.  We would help Iraqis hold free elections by January 2005.  We would continue helping Iraqis rebuild their nation‘s infrastructure and economy.  We would encourage more international support for Iraq‘s democratic transition.  And we would enable Iraqis to take increasing responsibility for their own security and stability.

In the past year, we have made significant progress. 

One year ago today, we restored sovereignty to the Iraqi people. In January 2005, more than 8 million Iraqi men and women voted in elections that were free and fair and took time on—and took place on time.  

We continued our efforts to help them rebuild their country.  Rebuilding a country after three decades of tyranny is hard, and rebuilding while at war is even harder. 

Our progress has been uneven, but progress is being made. 

We are improving roads and schools and health clinics.  We‘re working to improve basic services like sanitation, electricity and water.  And together with our allies, we will help the new Iraqi government deliver a better life for its citizens. 

In the past year, the international community has stepped forward with vital assistance.  Some 30 nations have troops in Iraq, and many others are contributing non-military assistance.  

The United Nations is in Iraq to help Iraqis write a constitution and conduct their next elections. 

Thus far, some 40 countries and three international organizations have pledged about $34 billion in assistance for Iraqi reconstruction.

More than 80 countries and international organizations recently came together in Brussels to coordinate their efforts to help Iraqis provide for their security and rebuild their country.  And next month, donor countries will meet in Jordan to support Iraqi reconstruction. 

Whatever our differences in the past, the world understands that success in Iraq is critical to the security of our nations. 

As German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said at the White House yesterday, “There can be no question a stable and democratic Iraq is in the vested interest of not just Germany, but also Europe.” 

Finally, we have continued our efforts to equip and train Iraqi security forces.  We‘ve made gains in both the number and quality of those forces. 

Today, Iraq has more than 160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions.  Iraqi forces have fought bravely, helping to capture terrorists and insurgents in Najaf and Samarra, Fallujah and Mosul. 

And in the past month, Iraqi forces have led a major anti- terrorist campaign in Baghdad called Operation Lightning, which has led to the capture of hundreds of suspected insurgents. 

Like free people everywhere, Iraqis want to be defended by their own countrymen, and we are helping Iraqis assume those duties. 

The progress in the past year has been significant, and we have a clear path forward. 

To complete the mission, we will continue to hunt down the terrorists and insurgents.  

To complete the mission, we will prevent al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban:  a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends. 

And the best way to complete the mission is to help Iraqis build a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. 

So our strategy going forward has both a military track and a political track.

The principal task of our military is to find and defeat the terrorists.  And that is why we are on the offense.  

And as we pursue the terrorists, our military is helping to train Iraqi security forces so that they can defend their people and fight the enemy on their own. 

Our strategy can be summed up this way:  As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down. 

We have made progress, but we have a lot more work to do. 

Today, Iraqi security forces are at different levels of readiness. 

Some are capable of taking on the terrorists and insurgents by themselves.  A large number can plan and execute anti- terrorist operations with coalition support.  The rest are forming and not yet ready to participate fully in security operations. 

Our task is to make the Iraqi units fully capable and independent.  We are building up Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible so they can assume the lead in defeating the terrorists and insurgents.   

Our coalition is devoting considerable resources and manpower to this critical task. 

Thousands of coalition troops are involved in the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces. 

NATO is establishing a military academy near Baghdad to train the next generation of Iraqi military leaders, and 17 nations are contributing troops to the NATO training mission. 

Iraqi army and police are being trained by personnel from Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Turkey, Poland, Romania, Australia and the United Kingdom. 

Today, dozens of nations are working toward a common objective: an Iraq that can defend itself, defeat its enemies and secure its freedom. 

To further prepare Iraqi forces to fight the enemy on their own, we are taking three new steps.

First, we are partnering coalition units with Iraqi units.  These coalition Iraqi teams are conducting operations together in the field.  These combined operations are giving Iraqis a chance to experience how the most professional armed forces in the world operate in combat. 

Second, we are embedding coalition transition teams inside Iraqi units.  These teams are made up of coalition officers and non- commissioned officers who live, work and fight together with their Iraqi comrades. 

Under U.S. command, they are providing battlefield advice and assistance to Iraqi forces during combat operations.  Between battles, they are assisting the Iraqis with important skills such as urban combat and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance techniques. 

Third, we are working with the Iraqi ministries of interior and defense to improve their capabilities to coordinate anti-terrorist operations.  

We‘re helping them develop command and control structures.

We‘re also providing them with civilian and military leadership training, so Iraq‘s new leaders can effectively manage their forces in the fight against terror.

The new Iraqi security forces are proving their courage every day.  More than 2,000 members of Iraqi security forces have given their lives in the line of duty.  Thousands more have stepped forward and are now training to serve their nation. 

With each engagement, Iraqi soldiers grow more battle-hardened and their officers grow more experienced. 

We‘ve learned that Iraqis are courageous and that they need additional skills.  And that is why a major part of our mission is to train them so they can do the fighting, and then our troops can come home.  

I recognize that Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as possible.  So do I. 

Some contend that we should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S.  forces.  Let me explain why that would be a serious mistake. 

Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. 

It would send the wrong signal to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. 

And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out.

We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed and not a day longer. 

Some Americans ask me, “If completing the mission is so important, why don‘t you send more troops?”

If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them.  But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job.  

Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight.  And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave. 

As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters:  the sober judgment of our military leaders.

The other critical element of our strategy is to help ensure that the hopes Iraqis expressed at the polls in January are translated into a secure democracy. 

The Iraqi people are emerging from decades of tyranny and oppression. 

Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Shia and Kurds were brutally oppressed and the vast majority of Sunni Arabs were also denied their basic rights while senior regime officials enjoyed the privileges of unchecked power. 

The challenge facing Iraqis today is to put this past behind them and come together to build a new Iraq that includes all of its people.

They are doing that by building the institutions of a free society—a society based on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and equal justice under law. 

The Iraqis have held free elections and established a transitional national assembly.  The next step is to write a good constitution that enshrines these freedoms in permanent law. 

The assembly plans to expand its constitutional drafting committee to include more Sunni Arabs.  Many Sunnis who opposed the January elections are now taking part in the democratic process, and that is essential to Iraq‘s future. 

After a constitution is written, the Iraqi people will have a chance to vote on it.  If approved, Iraqis will go to the polls again, to elect a new government under their new, permanent constitution. 

By taking these critical steps and meeting their deadlines, Iraqis will bind their multiethnic society together in a democracy that respects the will of the majority and protects minority rights.  

As Iraqis grow confident that the democratic progress they are making is real and permanent, more will join the political process. 

And as Iraqis see that their military can protect them, more will step forward with vital intelligence to help defeat the enemies of a free Iraq.  

The combination of political and military reform will lay a solid foundation for a free and stable Iraq.

As Iraqis make progress toward a free society, the effects are being felt beyond Iraq‘s borders. 

Before our coalition liberated Iraq, Libya was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons.  Today the leader of Libya has given up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs. 

Across the broader Middle East, people are claiming their freedom.  In the last few months, we have witnessed elections in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon.  These elections are inspiring democratic reformers in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. 

Our strategy to defend ourselves and spread freedom is working. 

The rise of freedom in this vital region will eliminate the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder and make our nation safer.  

We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America‘s resolve. 

We are fighting against men with blind hatred and armed with lethal weapons who are capable of any atrocity.  They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality.  They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras. 

They are trying to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried to shake our will on September 11, 2001.  They will fail. 

The terrorists do not understand America.  The American people do not falter under threat, and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins.  

America and our friends are in a conflict that demands much of us.  

It demands the courage of our fighting men and women.  It demands the steadfastness of our allies.  And it demands the perseverance of our citizens. 

We accept these burdens because we know what is at stake.

We fight today because Iraq now carries the hope of freedom in a vital region of the world, and the rise of democracy will be the ultimate triumph over radicalism and terror. 

And we fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. 

So we‘ll fight them there, we‘ll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won.   

(APPLAUSE)

America has done difficult work before.  From our desperate fight for independence to the darkest days of a civil war to the hard-fought battles against tyranny in the 20th century, there were many chances to lose our heart, our nerve or our way. 

But Americans have always held firm, because we have always believed in certain truths.  We know that if evil is not confronted, it gains in strength and audacity and returns to strike us again.  We know that when the work is hard, the proper response is not retreat, it is courage.  And we know that this great ideal of human freedom entrusted to us in a special way and that the ideal of liberty is worth defending.  

In this time of testing, our troops can know:  The American people are behind you. 

Next week, our nation has an opportunity to make sure that support is felt by every soldier, sailor, airman, Coast Guardsman and Marine at every outpost across the world. 

This 4th of July, I ask you to find a way to thank the men and women defending our freedom, by flying the flag, sending letters to our troops in the field or helping the military family down the street. 

The Department of Defense has set up a Web site, AmericaSupportsYou.mil.  You can go there to learn about private efforts in your own community. 

At this time when we celebrate our freedom, let us stand with the men and women who defend us all.  

To the soldiers in this hall and our service men and women across the globe, I thank you for your courage under fire and your service to our nation. 

I thank our military families.  The burden of war falls especially hard on you. 

In this war, we have lost good men and women who left our shores to defend freedom and did not live to make the journey home. 

I‘ve met with families grieving the loss of loved ones who were taken from us too soon.  I‘ve been inspired by their strength in the face of such great loss. 

We pray for the families.  And the best way to honor the lives that have been given in this struggle is to complete the mission.   

I thank those of you who‘ve re-enlisted in an hour when your country needs you.  

And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces. 

We live in freedom because every generation has produced patriots willing to serve a cause greater than themselves.  Those who serve today are taking their rightful place among the greatest generations that have worn our nation‘s uniform. 

When the history of this period is written, the liberation of Afghanistan and the liberation of Iraq will be remembered as great turning points in the story of freedom.

After September 11, 2001, I told the American people that the road ahead would be difficult and that we would prevail.  Well, it has been difficult and we are prevailing. 

Our enemies are brutal, but they are no match for the United States of America, and they are no match for the men and women of the United States military. 

May God bless you all.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was the president of the United States addressing the nation tonight.  He was on many of the networks, the broadcast networks, as well as the cable networks.  He‘s going to reach a big audience tonight. 

And of course, he made the connection between terrorism and what happened to our country on 9/11 back in 2001 and the war that we‘re fighting now in Iraq.  He kept using the phrase, “the murderous ideology” which connected both the terrorists of 9/11 and the insurgents fighting us in Iraq. 

He also made a point of differentiating between the nationalists insurgents, the Iraqis themselves who are elements of the old Ba‘athist regime, and talking a lot about the foreign fight who come in from other countries in the Arab world, to fight us there in Iraq, making his point, better to fight them there than fight them here. 

Let‘s go right now to “Newsweek‘s” magazine managing editor, Jon Meacham.  John, did the president do what he had to do tonight or not?

MEACHAM:  I think he certainly spoke nobly and well.  He linked this struggle to our noblest moments through our history, from the revolution forward. 

It was striking to me that the one moment of applause at that very well disciplined military crowd was that we will stay in the fight until the fight is won.  And he evoked the virtues and values of courage and tenacity and sacrifice. 

What he has still, I think, not done for people who are uncertain about the beginnings of this war, the reason we went in in the first place, is making the link between September 11 and what‘s unfolding in Iraq right now. 

This was as Richard Haass, the former director of planning at the State Department called it, a war of choice.  And it is—obviously, the president has made a generational bet that, by transforming Iraq, we will transform the ideologies that drove the terrorists. 

But that is a difficult argument to make, because it‘s almost like trying to prove a negative.  That is, we have not been hit, so therefore, we are winning over there. 

And I think that many people who believe that the connection between the 11th and the war in Iraq is tenuous will continue to believe that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the message from the president tonight and how it squares with those from the other high level officials of this administration. 

We all heard the vice president say the other day that the insurgency, our enemy over there, is in its last throes.  That was a phrase that got picked up everywhere. 

Then we heard from the secretary of defense saying this, like other insurgencies, could go as long as 12 years. 

Where did the president come out tonight?  Somewhere between in its last throes and an insurgency that we‘d have to be fight for up to 12 years?  Where‘s he?

MEACHAM:  Yes, you‘re exactly right.  I think he took a middle position. 

You know, he—the most interestingly, to me, one of the most honest things he said on that side of the ledger was our progress has been uneven.  And that‘s the first time I‘ve heard him say that as directly as he has.

You know, I think one of the arts of presidential leadership, which the president does very, very well, is to project the case for courage, for sacrifice, for fighting the terrorists over there so we don‘t have to fight them here.  He has been very effective with that rhetoric from the first week of the attacks starting down at Ground Zero. 

What he has been less good at is admitting mistakes, admitting that presidents learn as they go along.  And admitting that, in fact, we don‘t get everything right the first time. 

And I think that people continue to look for a kind of acknowledgment, that as we‘ve seen from many of the military officers, a sense that the insurgency is stronger than we thought.  You know, Secretary Rumsfeld said it was full of dead-enders, and then come out and says it‘s going to take us 12 years. 

I think that acknowledging that this is complex, this is difficult, gets you a lot of credit.  I don‘t think any of us expect that remaking a difficult region of the world is going to be easy work.  And I think many, many people want to see the president acknowledge that in a forthright way. 

MATTHEWS:  In your book, certainly—“Franklin and Winston,” one of the great books, I think, ever written on public life, you saluted Winston Churchill. 

Churchill once said the worst mistake that a statesman can make is to promise victory and to see it dashed, the hopes dashed.  Do you think the president is still trying to make up for the fact that he more or less took credit for a victory with that landing on the aircraft carrier with the hopeful language which accompanied the initial invasion?

MEACHAM:  I think what he—I think the president has two audiences in the country.  And I think it goes to a great divide in our national life that we should confront and deal with very directly.

He has a military culture of these incredibly brave men and women we‘re looking at and talking to right now.  It‘s a very small slice of the country, less than 1 percent, I think.  And he speaks to them as his base for this war, for these are the people who actually carry the sacrifice. 

Six percent, I think, of the nation was involved in World War II.  So there was a broader commitment there.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MEACHAM:  And I think one of the things that‘s essential is that he has to be unwavering.  He has to be unflagging.  He has to be strong in spirit, because those are the young men and women who may give their lives for this cause, which is a good and noble cause. 

You know, I live in Manhattan.  I have two small children.  I do not want anything like September 11 to ever happen again.  And he has—George Bush is, with the best of intentions, and a good heart, trying to make sure it doesn‘t. 

But I think the rest—there‘s another part of the country that has a more intellectualized, more political view, if you will.  Still trying to connect how is it that bin Laden and Afghanistan is tied up with this war in Iraq?  And I think that‘s still dots that a lot of people haven‘t connected, and the president hasn‘t connected them for us very much. 

The line from Churchill you mentioned is that the British people can face any misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy as long as they are convinced that those who are in charge of their affairs are not deceiving them or are not themselves dwelling in a fool‘s paradise. 

And I do think the president did a very good job tonight of saying, “I understand this is hard.  But we‘re going to press forward.” 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s check that out with some of the other people here.  Thank you.  Thank you very much, Jon Meacham, managing editor of “Newsweek” magazine.

We‘ve got joining us right now, MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson, host of “The Situation.”  MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell.  I‘m going to start with you first, Norah. 

The president had a challenge tonight.  I sized it up, I think, tonight with our audience out here in Nashville with this poll data, which showed that 53 percent of the American people now believe that it was a mistake to go to Iraq.  It wasn‘t part of the war on terrorism.  Did the president turned that around a notch tonight or not?

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  He may have, and as President Woodrow Wilson, someone who President Bush emulates very much, once said, “You not only to have win the war on the battlefield; you have to win the war for the American mind.” 

There are now six out of 10 Americans who say we are bogged down in Iraq. 

But at the same time, while the American people are unhappy about what‘s going on, they do not think we should cut and run.  They are looking for guidance from the commander-in-chief about what we are going to do.  What is the strategy?  Are we changing our game plan? What is the exit strategy?

The president did not say that he would change things today.  He did not provide a clear exit strategy or a timetable.  What he may have achieved doing is providing an update to the American people.  That‘s what the White House said they wanted to do today: restate the strategy, reinvigorate public support. 

MATTHEWS:  Jon Meacham suggested, Tucker, that the president showed he was in touch with the reality out there in the field.  And yet, there were terms used tonight that were redolent of terms used two years ago. 

“The coalition,” when everybody knows it‘s most of us, those troops that he‘s watching right now.  It‘s American G.I.‘s and Marines who are doing the fighting over there.  Let‘s not kid ourselves.  They‘re the ones getting killed.  They‘re the ones carrying the brunt of the fighting, not the Iraqis yet. 

And yet the president said the 30 nations involved in this.  Did you -

·         did you buy into that new language, that old language, as selling tonight?

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  He gave the Iraqis a lot of credit.  He said in a couple places they‘ve behaved bravely on the battlefield.  You know, that‘s an open question.  Not everyone agrees with that characterization.

I was struck by how much of the speech was devoted to explaining why we went to war in the first place.  Notice, he never mentioned the threat from prewar Iraq to the United States.  This speech was different for that reason.  He never said we had to go because they were a threat to us.  But he did, again and again, try to tie it to 9/11.  Five times he mentioned the number 11. 

MATTHEWS:  What was the connection?

CARLSON:  The connection, as he put it, is ideology.  That the people we‘re fighting in Iraq are the people who bombed us on September 11...

MATTHEWS:  Is it true?

CARLSON:  ... that they have the same ideology.  Well, in some grand sense, in some very large sense, yes.  I mean, they‘re all—they all subscribe to a certain sort of radical Islam.  Yes, that‘s true. 

MATTHEWS:  The Ba‘athists, as well?

CARLSON:  That‘s I don‘t think true.  At least, I think, in talking about the insurgents.

What‘s interesting to me, though, is that Jon Meacham made a really good point.  This is a noble cause in an abstract way.  We‘re not there for oil.  We‘re not there to colonize the country.  We‘re not even there to build military bases. 

We‘re there, as he said, to create a stable Democratic Iraq and make the world safer.  I don‘t think there‘s any argument with that.  Whether it‘s going to work is another question. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the big question.  I want to get to the panel, and everyone else, I want to go right through the list here. 

The president did try to buoy our spirits.  He certainly had to.  It‘s his job as commander in chief to make those troops feel that we‘re going to win this war. 

He talked about the grand coalition.  He talked about NATO training, things I didn‘t know about.  There‘s a wider, at least a thin level of support from those nine combatant countries like France and Germany and the rest.  They‘re helping us, at least, in terms of training. 

No claims of victory on the battlefield.  But did you get a sense tonight, coming away, that we were winning?  Reza?

REZA ASLAN, AUTHOR, “NO GOD BUT GOD”:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Winning?  I want to stick to that point.  Did you get a sense that we had the rise—we had the rising tide over there or we were still pretty much duking it out with those people on the streets and not quite grabbing the advantage?

ASLAN:  I think we‘re still duking it out.  I think it‘s a very, very long road until we can say anything like winning in Iraq. 

I mean, what he talked about is that this is a war on ideology.  And the fact is that the way you beat that is with a better ideology.  That‘s what we need...

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have democracy.  We‘ve had elections over there.  We‘ve had—and certainly, I‘m stunned to hear, in your—the country of your roots, Iran, maybe Americans didn‘t like the guy who won.  They would have preferred Rafsanjani.  That shows how desperate we are, who we root for these days. 

But the fact of the matter, it was an election.  There were election returns.  We sat—and I thought that was a development. 

ASLAN:  It was the fairest election that that region has seen, I think, in years.  And I think it‘s shocking to hear someone like Condoleezza Rice touring countries like Jordan and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, countries that have had nothing even remotely like a democratic election at that scale.  And yet call the election in Iran a sham.  And that‘s what I mean by a war of ideology. 

MATTHEWS:  Will it change in December when we have another big final constitutional election in Iraq this coming December?  Will it build the solidarity of that new government?

ASLAN:  It depends on the constitution.  I think if the constitution is really a fair constitution, one that brings in every part of the Iraqi culture, then not only I think will it be good for Iraq, but it truly will be good for the region.  It really will give other regions, other countries, particularly Iran, the incentive it needs to really bring out the democracy within their region. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Tony Perkins.  The president has an unusual coalition behind him.  He has he some liberal hawks, you know, Joe Lieberman and others. 

He‘s got a lot of evangelicals behind him in this war, because of their support for the state of Israel, because of their just general support for him. 

He‘s got some old line conservatives, with the exception of people maybe like Pat Buchanan.  He‘s got some old line conservatives.  And he‘s got loyal Republicans. 

Does he have a solid phalanx on the right supporting this war?  Are there people who doubt its importance?

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  I think he does have a solid support on the right. 

I think what did he tonight was he took us back to why we‘re there. 

He went back.  He reminded us of what we‘re up against. 

And you know, we live in the age of instant—you know, results.  This is not instant.  We‘ve been there awhile.  We‘re going to be there a while longer.  And it‘s good to remind the American people why we‘re there, what we‘re up against and what happens if we don‘t succeed. 

MATTHEWS:  What with the sense of a victory coming?  Do you sense—did you think that Rumsfeld—let me ask you a political question.  Do you think Rumsfeld really pulled a boner the other day by saying we may be there 12 years?

PERKINS:  Well, sometimes there are those that are—that are more, I guess, forthright in what they see as reality.  And some are more optimistic in what they hope will be reality. 

And I think it is true that the insurgency there is going to be going on for quite sometime.  This is a new type of a struggle we‘re up against, terrorism.  It is not like Vietnam.  It is not like World War II.  It‘s not like World War I.  It‘s a new enemy.  He said we‘ll take the fight to them.  That‘s what he‘s doing.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a question, because you follow all this politics.  The Israeli people put up—it was pointed out the other day.  The Israeli people get up every morning.  You know, when you wait for a bus, you might get killed.  When you go to a pizza parlor, you might get killed.  That‘s how you live, because you want to be part of this great, you know, Jewish state because you believe in it as a deep historic reality. 

You know, we‘re over there.  Do you think we can sit through three

presidential terms, 12 years more of fighting an insurgency with the troops

·         these great troops we‘re seeing right here?

PERKINS:  I think, unfortunately, we have not developed that staying power.  But I think the president is reminding us of why we‘re there and bringing to us a different phase in American life, that this is something we‘re going to have to live with. 

It‘s much—I worked with Israelis when I worked in the counter terrorism business.  They have a whole different mindset of this.  We‘re going to have to develop that. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember going to a movie theater and up there‘s a cute girl sitting next to you.  And she‘s got an Uzi.  You know, a machine gun.  I mean, you‘re really fighting man to man over there.

Do you think we don‘t—might not have that 12-year staying power to fight in the Middle East that long?

PERKINS:  We‘re developing it.  And I think the president is—part of the process is bringing us along to realize this is something we‘re going to be facing for the rest of our lives. 

Bobby, the only woman—one of the two women here.  The other is a reporter.  You‘ve got a point of view.  I want to ask you about it. 

It used to be that women cared about domestic issues.  I don‘t mean house domestic.  I mean American domestic.  And the men were all the hawks.  The latest polling show the women are just as hawkish as men on security.  Is the president on firm ground politically with your friends and people you represent?

BOBBY PATRAY, STATE PRESIDENT, EAGLE FORUM:  There‘s no agenda in loving freedom and liberty.  And I think that the people over there are seeing a wonderful thing.  Who can forget the pictures of the people holding up the blue finger? 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

PATRAY:  And who can forget knowing now that children are going to school that hadn‘t been going to school, that women are doing things that they‘ve not been allowed to do in years and years and years. 

There‘s even a symphony orchestra over there that is composed of a whole lot of different people from that country of different persuasions. 

Life is improving for those.  But you know, one has to wonder how long we‘d have stayed in World War II, had we had this instant media and 24 hour a day media. 

MATTHEWS:  Bobby, you‘ve raised a very interesting point.  Harry Truman courageously went to Korea.  Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson went to Vietnam.  Johnson escalated.  Jimmy Carter got involved in that thing in Iran. 

The American people don‘t seem to have the patience they had back in ‘44, ‘45.  Do they?

They changed presidents when we get involved in a bogged down war. 

PATRAY:  Well, I don‘t know that—if they don‘t have the patience.  But the instant communication, the 24-hour news cycles, I think makes a huge difference.  Think how long it was before the things happened in Europe that we found out about here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re stuck with it.  What do we do?

PATRAY:  We keep pressing forward.  We continue to move the ball forward. 

DR. JERRY SUTTON, PASTOR, TWO RIVERS BAPTIST CHURCH:  I‘d say when you‘re the leader, you don‘t have the option of vacillating.  That‘s a pleasure that the leader doesn‘t have. 

And the best thing that he can do, that our president can do, is say, you know, “We‘re here for the long haul.”  Everybody is concerned that we not have another Vietnam.  The issue is, if we‘re not going to have another Vietnam, what is the game plan?

Americans don‘t mind going to war.  They mind going to war with no hope of victory. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SUTTON:  And it‘s the stalemate that is the discourager for the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  Where are we now?

SUTTON:  I think the jury is out.  I‘m pro-president.  I‘m for the war.  I want to see us win the war. 

MATTHEWS:  When you talk to your people, there are people here who are families.  When you have a kid over there, I don‘t even want to think what it feels like.  We‘ve got a father here we‘re going to talk to in a minute. 

I don‘t even want to think about how much it feels to have your son or daughter out there, getting shot at or these IEDs on these horrific roads they‘ve got to get done with these tanks, with these Humvees. 

But let me ask you a question.  And I think it‘s the profound question of our time right now.  This president‘s most profound decision was to go to Iraq.  It wasn‘t to go to Afghanistan.  It wasn‘t to fight the terrorists.  Most presidents would have done something, probably—something.  Maybe not as dramatic. 

It‘s going to Iraq after the Ba‘athist regime of Saddam Hussein.  He was not part of 9/11.  It turns out we all found out didn‘t have the WMD. 

When you talk to people out here, do they say, maybe it would have been smarter to go track down Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden with all we had, focus everything we have on that one point.  Get the bad guys. 

As the president said on 9/14, get the people that knocked down these buildings.  That‘s what he promised to do.  Get the people that knocked down these buildings.  Would we have been better off to hear people say that?

SUTTON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the question. 

SUTTON:  Hindsight is a luxury we don‘t have. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  That‘s right.  Because most people today say there‘s a mistake.  But as Norah points out reflecting public opinion, they know there‘s not an easy way out.  You can‘t come crawling back and saying gee whiz, we made a mistake.  It‘s not that simple—Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  Again, the goal of the president tonight was to show the way forward.  How are we going to get out of this situation? With the American people, and the White House acknowledges the American people don‘t feel great at. 

But the president said today the exit strategy is when the Iraqi people stand up, we will stand down. 

There were very critical hearings on Capitol Hill this week in which Senator John McCain asked General Abizaid and General Casey, who‘s the command of the forces in Iraq, how many Iraqi security forces do we have ready?  General Casey refused to answer in a public hearing, saying that is classified. 

They are not—the U.S. military, the government is no longer saying how many trained Iraqi security forces there are.  That is imperative to know when our troops, our men and women can come home.  To know how these Iraqi security forces are doing.  When are they going to be ready?  When?

MATTHEWS:  And the president again, he said when they stand up, we stand down. 

O‘DONNELL:  Exactly. 

CARLSON:  I just thought he did answer two questions that have been at the center of the debate.  Why aren‘t we sending more troops?  And he said we‘re not sending more troops because sending more troops would be a signal to the Iraqi people that we‘re never going home. 

And why aren‘t we pulling back now?  Why aren‘t we setting a date for withdrawal?

You first at the microphone, miss. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My name is Jennifer Bow (ph).  And...

MATTHEWS:  I‘d better go down there and encourage this woman on a little bit.  What do you want to say?  Does other person want to talk first or not?  Go ahead?  Let‘s go. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My name is Alexis.  My husband is a specialist in the Tennessee Army National Guard 278 Regimental Combat Team, and he‘s presently deployed to Iraq. 

And I think that—I think the president was correct in saying that it‘s difficult to say when these guys are going to be able to come home and when we‘re going to be able to pull the troops out of Iraq.  Because I think that at this point in time, that‘s maybe an impossible thing to guess. 

MATTHEWS:  What was your reaction when you read the paper and saw the secretary of defense, the man who reports to the president, through the chain of command, was talking 12 years?  What did you think, Miss?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s scary.  Being a wife and, you know, having to take care of a child while her daddy is in Iraq.  You know, but if that‘s what it is going to take, then I would be willing to stick with it, because I think that for to us back out now, they win.  And we can‘t let that happen. 

MATTHEWS:  I always say this.  But I mean it.  I want to thank him for his service.  OK.  And you, too, of course, your family.  Your little kid. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  A boy or girl?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s a little girl. 

MATTHEWS:  She‘ll grow up knowing her daddy did his duty, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, her daddy is a hero. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you ready, Miss?  Are you warmed up?  Go ahead. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I really—I support the president in everything he does.  And I‘m proud that my husband is over there.  And you‘re saying 12 years.  If that‘s what it takes, that‘s really what it takes. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he give you a sense that things are making it over there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He says it‘s not a game.  He says it‘s not summer camp, because I always joke to him about being in summer camp.  And he says it‘s not.  And you know, there‘s real dangers out there.  But it‘s what they‘re there for. 

MATTHEWS:  Can they spot the enemy like we could in earlier wars? We could—even the V.C., you could sort of spot them at one point.  Or is it these IUD‘s?  Not IUD‘s.  Different topic.  IED‘s.  Some of the women know what I mean here.  Spread the word.  IED‘s. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think it is a different kind of war than we‘re used to seeing.  The IED‘s.

MATTHEWS:  Improvised explosive devices. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Right.  Are just as bad as the guerillas in Vietnam are.  You know, it‘s a different...

MATTHEWS:  The snipers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Right.  The snipers.  It‘s just different. 

MATTHEWS:  Again, thank you for his service.  Thank you, too. 

Your thoughts.  About the president‘s speech tonight.  You got to see it here on this big screen up here.  What did you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think he‘s right.  My husband said that it will probably be 10 years.  And that‘s probably what it will take.  We‘ve always been in other countries. 

MATTHEWS:  Where‘s your—is it your husband?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Where‘s he serving right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  In Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  But where?  Did he say?  If you can‘t, I know. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, you don‘t want to compromise security. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s in the thick of things?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And I always wonder what it‘s like over there in terms of day to day travel on those highways, and it seems like in a normal war where you have to—what you call behind the front lines.  There‘s no front lines, are there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.  It‘s just everywhere. 

MATTHEWS:  If you have to explain to your kids, 20 years from now about your husband fighting this war, assuming he makes it.  Let‘s be optimistic.  What would your Daddy fight for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He fought to free people who deserve to be free like we are.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that we can—that we can export what we believe?  I don‘t mean export the desire for freedom but elections, whoever wins the election gets to run the country.  You don‘t have military coups.  You don‘t kill the guy.  You let him win.  You let her win.

Do you think you can export that commitment to democracy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think we can encourage it as long as we are there helping to enforce it.  I don‘t think that we can force these people to accept our way that we run our government. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you afraid that after all the pain and blood and already almost, you know, 2,000 people killed.  And 5,000, 6,000 very seriously injured.  Another 5,000, 6,000 injured in back to combat.  Are you afraid that when we do come back, the sands will just blow over and they‘ll go back to the old ways of doing things?  The military coups and the military tyrants and Saddam Hussein just taking over again?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I would like to hope they don‘t.  And from what I hear from what the people in Iraq, how they react to our soldiers being there, I don‘t think that they will.  But I can‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we‘re getting any help over there?  Because the president, very optimistically spoke about NATO.  The old NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as the Germans, the French, the Brits. 

Do we have any real partners over there?  Is it just us G.I.s, American G.I.‘s and Marines, doing the fighting?  Does your husbands ever say, I‘ve got this great Danish guy who‘s been fighting on my side?  Or this Irish guy or Norwegian?  Do they have any allies over there or is it just G.I.‘s doing the fighting?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s just been the G.I.‘s.  I haven‘t heard any...

MATTHEWS:  Not new friends from Europe or anything?  I wonder about why the president so optimistically says 30 countries.  It‘s just—to me it sounds like we‘re in it with—Miss, why don‘t you join in here?  Do you have a loved one there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  My husband had his 40th birthday in Iraq this year. 

MATTHEWS:  How was that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It was interesting. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he have a cake?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.  We tried to mail cupcakes.  And they were kind of moldy by the time they arrived. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you send him M&M‘s, at least?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  He got plenty of Oreos. 

MATTHEWS:  Oreos?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That‘s what he likes. 

MATTHEWS: How long has he been over there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The last day I saw him was November 12 of last year when he deployed from Mississippi. 

MATTHEWS:  What unit is he in?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The 278th

MATTHEWS:  He‘s in Army. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  Tennessee Army National Guard.  He‘s dual status.  So he is career military.  And we do have a pretty good window when he‘s coming home. 

But then there‘s no guarantee that he will not go back again.  And the rumor among the men that he has shared me, they‘re all very aware it could be six years, is the figure I heard. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you feel watching him among the soldiers tonight? 

The guys at Ft. Bragg?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Watching the president?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  The commander-in-chief. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, the analogy that first came to my mind was like my 9-year-old, he‘s not ready to drive yet.  When he‘s ready to drive, then we‘re going to teach him to drive. 

And I feel like we‘ve started to teach these people how to drive.  And as a parent, I‘m not going to jump out of the car or just give him a guide book and say, “OK, give it your best shot.”  I‘m there for the long haul.  And when he, when I‘m convinced he‘s ready to learn to drive, then I‘ll let him drive. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they have a fight?  Do they have fight in them?  Is he telling you that the Iraqis he‘s training have fight in them?  The one is to stand up there—I‘ve never done it.  Have somebody shoot at me?  How do they do that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My husband works in supply.  So he is not on, quote, “front lines.”  His job is to feed and clothe and care for the military. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to keep this—thank you.  Why did I interrupt?  I‘m a bad mannered guy.  Anyway, thank you for your service and your husband‘s, particularly.  Thank him. 

Anyway, we‘ll be right back.  This is a town meeting here at Nashville, Tennessee.  We‘re holding it over through the next hour, right through this house and getting the first real public reaction in the country, on live television, to what the president had to say tonight, from Ft. Bragg.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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